Becoming involved in travel baseball isn’t a direct pipeline to playing in the College World Series, although when the University of South Carolina played in the 2012 College World Series, 10 players were products of the Mount Pleasant-based Diamond Devils travel program.
In an effort to provide younger players with some of the experiences older travel ball participants enjoy, the Diamond Devils are offering some new programs this year geared to players as young as 8, according to John Rhodes, who founded the highly successful Diamond Devils program (diamonddevils.org).
“We are involved with several organizations and all have age groups 8 to 18,” Rhodes said. “We have been asked numerous times to at least do some things with the younger age groups, but I have stayed away because I didn’t think it fit the footprint of what we do.
“What we do (with the Diamond Devils) is, for the most part, play all over the place with kids from all over the place. I didn’t see that as a viable option for the younger ages.”
But Rhodes said as more and more people approached him to look at options for the younger players, he began to see an opportunity. He said the idea is to give teams an opportunity other than playing against the same teams in the same format at the same facilities.
He recently put on a travel ball regional tournament in Greenville with 11- and 12-year-olds that drew teams from three states, and held an event for players 13-14 in Charleston.
Rhodes said the Diamond Devils don’t have teams for the younger-age players, but his son-in-law, Glen Frazeur, and Shawn Belcher coach a recreation department team of 8-year-olds who wanted to play more.
Rhodes said he’s been approached by several other teams who also want to play more than the typical recreation league season.
Those teams will have several opportunities this spring and summer in Mount Pleasant.
The Diamond Devils Wooden Bat Challenge 8U-14U tournament will be May 11-12; the American Amateur Baseball Congress/Continental Amateur Baseball Association State Championship Qualifier for 8U-12U will be played May 25-26; and the AABC/CABA State Championship for 8U-12U will be played June 22-23.
A big difference between younger and older teams, Rhodes said, is that high school-age travel ball players usually compete on their high school teams and then travel in the fall. The younger players can play year-round and often do, he said.
“We want people to understand that we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” Rhodes said. “We’re trying to give people options to do things differently, experience some of what it’s like.”